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  • Writer's pictureAna Lucia Jardim

How to Make the Most of a Life Transition: Part 2

The 8 Steps of Transition



At some point in our lives, we need to navigate one or multiple big life changes, which typically fall into 3 categories: where you live, what you do for work, and whom you love. In Part 1, I explored our tendency to rush from Point A to Point B to assuage the discomfort with the unknown, and the benefits of taking a different approach: embracing ambiguity for some time so that we can explore a wider dance floor of possibilities for the next chapter.

In this part 2, I’ll dive into what to expect when you take that approach.

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Examining my own experience, and that of my coaching clients and friends, I noticed some similarities across our individual journeys. I call these similarities the 8 Steps of Transition. While I describe them in a sequence below, they are not necessarily sequential. Think of them as a playlist of songs that you can shuffle, skip over, or listen to on repeat. Life transitions are rarely linear, and you and your dance floor are unique.




Step 1: Commitment

Our decision to depart from the status quo sounds something like this: “This is no longer the place for me. I need / want something else. I just need to figure what that is, and how to get there.”


It may take time to arrive at this decision. You might need to talk it through with friends and family. Or retreat from the world, block all distractions and have a real conversation with yourself.


Sometimes, the decision is made even before we become aware of it. About a year ago, I congratulated a former colleague after seeing something on social media that gave me the impression she had quit her job, to which she replied: “I haven’t, I’m just on sabbatical”. I got an email from her a few days, saying “I quit my job. Apparently, I’ve known it for a year, it just took me a while to do it”.


You know the commitment is real when the decision takes up residence in your body. Unless this happens, you will likely regret it or change your mind later. My commitment came after a long time feeling stuck and tired (more on that here).


By sensing into these experiences - rather than dismissing or numbing them out- I got both clarity and certainty on the need to make a change. I felt the strength of the conviction in my belly, like a heavy rock dropping into a well.

It’s ok to share your decision with a few trusted people, but I recommend not going broad right away. There is something rather sacred about keeping this to yourself for a few days. We don’t get to keep many things private anymore.


Step 2: Preparation

This step is about using our intellect to make this transition work in practice.

It’s important to start with a vision. I don’t mean SMART goals such as how much money you want to earn in your next job. I mean a broad strokes picture of life in the next chapter. This will serve as the north star throughout the transition, when you need to make decisions and during dark times (more about those soon). For example, when I decided to take a sabbatical, I shared this with a couple of friends:



The most important thing to do here is to be upfront about your fears and address them head on. I recommend the fear-setting tool by Tim Ferris, because it not only helped me be specific about the risks I faced and how I would mitigate them, but also made me reflect on the cost of yielding to those fears and not going through with it.


When I decided to quit my job, I was extremely insecure. I had been with that company for 15 years. A lot of my adulting happened while working there. My US residence and ultimately citizenship, my friendships, professional development, healthcare, lifestyle – all stemmed from that company. In a way, it had became a mothering figure, a secure base. Would I be able to make it on my own? Two things tethered me to this place: relationships and money. Getting a severance package was not an option, so I had to make a plan to mitigate my fear of financial ruin. When it came to relationships, I made a list of people I loved and wanted to keep in touch with, who I knew had my back if I ever needed help.

Ironically, facing your fears makes you less afraid.  


Step 3: The Leap

This step is about making our decision public and setting things in motion. It can be the tiniest action, such as scheduling a meeting with your boss to give them notice, or buying a one-way flight somewhere. 

When I was recruiting for a new department I was building, I had a phone call with one of the people we wanted to bring on board. She asked me various future-oriented questions, such as what kind of career path came with the role. I answered most of those questions with “I don’t know”. And said, “I can’t give you any guarantees. What we are building here has never been done before in the company, even in the industry. You’re going to have to take a leap of faith.” (She did and joined the team).


Big change requires a leap. We prepare the best we can so that we land as softly as possible, but we still need to jump. Getting on that one way flight or having the “I quit” conversation is probably the most exhilarating and hardest step of the journey. Hesitating is ok. Being afraid is appropriate. In fact, I would be surprised if you weren’t afraid. After all, you are making big decisions with potential life-altering consequences.


Connecting to your commitment, vision, and all your preparation are helpful. So are knowing how to make clear requests, how to set boundaries, and how to connect to a wider universal life force.

It's important to acknowledge or even celebrate this leap. Your courage, and dedication to living an authentic life does not only benefit you: it benefits the entire world. Imagine how different our society would be if more people were in jobs they really liked that used their strengths and talents; in loving relationships that were mutually life-giving; or living in places where they contributed and were valued as members of the community.


Step 4: Restoration

Once we leap, there is a great temptation to get right down to business and start being productive. Resist.


This step is about rest and recovery, where you tend to your sore muscles, your sore heart, your overused intellect. You’ve done a lot. It’s time to take a break. Look out the window, lay in the sun and feel its warmth on your skin, do things just for fun. Nourish yourself and do very little that’s productive in the modern sense of the word.


This is an extremely important step because it will bring your senses back online. Our senses are crucial during a transition because they help us make wise decisions.


One of the most powerful tools at your disposal here is unscheduled time. In my case, having my days completely unscheduled doesn’t work, it’s too stressful. I need one focal point to organize my time around, like a sun. For me, it was taking daily dance classes from 10 am to 1pm. You can volunteer, learn to play an instrument, do anything that you enjoy and provides some focus. Then leave the rest of the day open, just flow to what you feel like doing in the moment. or what comes your way. This unscheduled time may cause anxiety or loneliness. But if you stop running away from these feelings and befriended instead, after that initial discomfort something wonderful usually happens: you start enjoying your own company and discovering the abundance of wonders that surrounded you. Other possible benefits: you start sleeping better. Your skin looks better. You became both calmer and more alert.


Step 5: The Thrill

With the weight of prior responsibilities, relationships or roles off your shoulders, we feel unbound, light and effervescent. Everything is new and exciting. There is an incredible release in doing all the things you never had time for or allowed yourself to do before. The world looks brighter and full of possibility.


A single day can go by so quickly, just taking care of everyday life like food shopping, cooking, being with family. “How did I ever get all those things done back then?!”, you wonder.


You may also experience what I call everyday enlightenment. I was on a call one day, sitting at my desk, when the sight of my half peeled tangerine caught my attention. The sun was peeking through the blinds, and it illuminated a single drop of juice that was protruding from the tangerine, suspended in time, and shining bright like a jewel. I was awestruck by the beauty, by everything in the universe that made that moment possible, and how I got to witness it. Moments like these were inexistent during my very accomplished, busy life. Moments like these changed my life.  


Allow yourself to fully experience this step, and also beware to not get carried away so much that you lose touch with reality. I used to live and die by my google calendar when I was working in corporate. During my year off, I largely disconnected from it and got used to managing my few appointments from memory or post its. Later on, as I was starting up my coaching practice, I would often forget about scheduled meetings, which would leave me aghast. This had never happened to me before. I heard other professionals on sabbatical describe the same phenomenon. I eventually got back into the calendar swing of things. But I learned how unnatural it is to live by a tight schedule, and how it separates us from real life and nature’s rhythms.


Step 6: Research and Testing

This step is all about exploring your range of motion. How far, high, deep can you go? Like a detective in an Agatha Christie novel, your job here is to collect data, clues and patterns that will point you in the direction of your next chapter.

It’s all about divergence: make contact with different places, activities, types of people, and skills.


I like the book Designing Your Life, and their recommendation to interview people who are doing things you’re interested in exploring. Stay open to and aware of your own somatic reactions in those conversation for they provide important data. A clear sign that I’m on to something important in a conversation is when I get goosebumps. This is an involuntary response from the nervous system that indicates arousal, such as excitement or curiosity. It’s my unconscious mind saying “follow this thread”. Many of us business types pull out our spreadsheets the minute we have to make an important decision. That’s fine, but this is your opportunity to tap into other sources of intelligence that go beyond the conscious mind. That’s where the real gold is.


Do establish a regular time for reflection, to take note of what you learned, the impact it had on you, and what to adjust or pivot to next.

Oh, and most importantly: enjoy yourself!


Step 7: The Dark Pit

There will come a time when you feel frustrated or disappointed. This can last minutes, days, or weeks. I wrote an earlier article Iabout this dark pit. Progress feels so slow. You ask yourself “what have I done with my life?!”, or you wonder whether you’re going in the right direction. I’ve heard some people say that the reason they don’t make a change is that they’re afraid of feeling this way.


It is not as bad as we think it will be when we pull the trigger. It’s… different. You are traveling an uncommon path, so it’s natural to sometimes feel lost or out of sync with the world. Whenever I shared that I was taking a year off work, I was met with different reactions. Many praised my courage, unsuspecting that I was struggling. Others couldn’t understand what I was doing, or would judge me ( “aren’t you bored? What do you do all day?!”).


I recall one October day, whilst on a day trip to the Douro valley in Portugal. I took the train in the middle of the week, and as we glided alongside the river, I glanced around the car. My travel companions all looked like they were retirees. “I guess everyone else is working today…”, I concluded. Work is such a powerful source of recognition and belonging in society. It gives you a place and a right to exist in the system. If you work, you carry your own weight. An inability to work or hold a job is commonly listed as a symptom of mental illness. When you don’t work, you can be forgotten, in big and small ways. At a lunch with friends, one of them was telling us something that was happening at her job. At some point, her gaze meets mine and she says, “oh, right, you don’t work”, looking away from me and in the direction of the others in the group while she carried on with the story.  


During your transition, you will be celebrated. You will be misunderstood. You will even be forgotten. These reactions say more about others than about you or your choices. If nothing else, going against the grain will strengthen your conviction and give you new insights on how the world works.  


Help yourself by:

·      Recalling your why, your vision for this journey

·      Finding guides and companions for support

·      Being kind to yourself, and getting some relief from the pressure, such as taking on a part time job to pay the bills for a while, or move in with family for some love and home cooked meals.


Above all, keep going. Even if you don’t notice it, you are getting stronger and wiser.


Step 8: Seeing Anew

This is a place where your transformation makes itself known to you. The moment when the world starts to look different. In my experience, it’s rarely a dramatic, fireworks-and-rainbows-everywhere event. It’s usually more subtle, practical. And quite irreversible.


A few examples of what this could look like:

·      You used to have a “type” you looked for in a romantic partner, and you usually would get very close, very fast. You stopped seeking one during this transition, and as a result you relaxed, and made new friends- including one who was not your type, but with whom you slowly fell in love.

·      After a while living with unscheduled time, you notice that you are most energized and alert in the late afternoons and evenings, and very slow and quiet in the mornings. Now you look for work that is more in line with your natural rhythm.

·      You downsized and moved around for a while in search for a new city / country to live. You notice how content you feel living with less stuff. Your new relationship with money and consumption brings even more freedom and peace of mind.


A very special treat is when your new way of being inspires others to make a big change of their own so that they can live more authentically. This makes all the twists and turns of the journey even more precious.  


*******


I recently asked a group of friends to describe the last time that they were in transition. Most of them responded: “I am in transition right now”. The majority also couldn’t say when exactly their transition had started or ended.  


Just like a dance, a transition is a series of steps that connect seamlessly, such that you can’t really tell where one ends and the next one begins. It is a continuous flow.


Living in ambiguity for a sustained period of time, largely stripped from other people’s expectations, got me in touch with a fundamental, natural need to move. I had hoped that my life would feel settled by now. Four years into this adventure, despite having landed on a place to live, found someone to love, and doing meaningful work, life still does not feel settled. I suspect it never will - not in the conventional sense. Life feels more like a continuous flow between these 8 steps. I may do something or be somewhere that looks permanent on the outside, but inside I am always in motion.


May you also find the freedom to keep moving and dancing.  


Are you making a big life change?

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